Are you sit­ting com­fort­ably? Let’s be­gin

Desk-bound work­ers need to get up and move to stay healthy and ache-free, writes Abi Jack­son

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Health -

LONG hours at a desk are tak­ing a toll on the na­tion’s backs — — but you can take steps to off­set the dam­age.

We’ve all seen the head­lines de­nounc­ing long hours spent at a desk ev­ery day as the root of many mod­ern ills — but how bad can it re­ally be?

“It’s a huge prob­lem,” says phys­io­ther­a­pist and os­teopath Tim Al­lardyce.

“It is one of the ma­jor rea­sons why back pain is so preva­lent, and in­creas­ing year on year. Sit­ting at a desk for long pe­ri­ods en­cour­ages us to adopt a for­ward pos­tural po­si­tion, where our backs round and be­come what is known as ‘kyphotic’ (a for­ward round­ing of the back). In­creased kypho­sis in the spine is of­ten a sign of poor pos­ture and is di­rectly re­lated to rounded shoul­ders.”

It’s not just about back pain ei­ther. A re­cent Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh study found many of­fice work­ers spend more time sit­ting than the over-75s, and seden­tary life­styles are linked to higher rates of ma­jor con­di­tions like high blood pres­sure, heart dis­ease and type 2 di­a­betes.

But, if quit­ting the of­fice isn’t an op­tion, what can you do about it? Quite a lot ac­tu­ally — although you have to be will­ing to make some changes...

Ditch al-desko lunches

“New re­search shows two out of five peo­ple are so glued to their desk, they even eat their lunch there,” says pain psy­chol­o­gist Dr Anna Man­dev­ille. “It’s a very bad habit that’s re­in­forced by our work cul­ture in com­bi­na­tion with high work­loads. Mov­ing reg­u­larly so we don’t ‘overdo’ one be­hav­iour — for ex­am­ple, sit­ting — has been shown to re­duce pain and im­prove mood.”

Your lunch break’s prob­a­bly your best op­por­tu­nity to have a break and get out to stretch your legs and get blood pump­ing through those veins — even go for a swim/jog/gym class, if cir­cum­stances al­low. Even a 10-minute walk round the block will make a dif­fer­ence.

Move it

Ide­ally, Al­lardyce says you need to “get up and move ev­ery 30 min­utes”. “Maybe just a two-minute walk to a col­league,” he sug­gests. “Don’t spend more than 30 min­utes at any one time sit­ting at your desk.” We owe a lot to mod­ern tech- nol­ogy — but it’s also made us lazy. So next time you need to ask a col­league a ques­tion, rather than adding to their in­box clog, con­sider get­ting up and hav­ing a quick chat with them in­stead.

Get a stand-up desk

Re­search has found that us­ing a stand-up desk can burn an ad­di­tional 50 calo­ries per hour. Also, when stand­ing, blood doesn’t pool in the legs like it can when sit­ting for long pe­ri­ods, which is good news for health all round. Stand-up desks can also en­cour­age you to move more fre­quently, which may help keep stiff­ness and aches at bay. Some de­signs — in­clud­ing the Varidesk Pro Plus — en­able you to al­ter­nate be­tween sit­ting and stand­ing to suit your needs.

Stretch it out

There are plenty of sim­ple stretches and yoga moves you can do at or near your desk to ward off aches, get that blood pump­ing — and, as an added bonus, even help re­duce stress. Try these five sug­ges­tions:

1. For­ward fold “Set an alarm ev­ery hour on your phone and ded­i­cate two min­utes to a for­ward fold — just hang there!” says yoga in­struc­tor Julie Mon­tagu. Stand up and, bend­ing at the hips not the waist, let your head hang down­wards. If you need to, bend your knees and rest your hands on your legs for sup­port and only go as far as is com­fort­able.

2. Seated back twists This one will stretch and twist your spine, and you don’t even have to get up. “Cross your legs and twist round, hold­ing the back of your chair and the op­po­site hand to knee, and hold for a minute be­fore switch­ing sides,” says Mon­tagu.

3. Ea­gle pose This one’s good if you’re prone to hunch­ing. “Put your arms into ea­gle pose (wrap­ping the arms around each other and rais­ing up­wards to­wards the ceil­ing), and lift your chin up, look­ing to­wards the ceil­ing,” says Mon­tagu. “Hold for a minute and then lower the arms, chin to chest and hold for a fur­ther minute.”

4. Dy­namic chest stretch Fit­ness in­struc­tor Rick Smith rec­om­mends this ex­er­cise as another easy one. He ex­plains: “Stand or sit up tall in your chair with arms stretched out straight in front of your body with palms to­gether. At a steady pace, move your arms out to your sides and ro­tate palms up­wards, push­ing the thumbs as far back as is com­fort­able, hold for 10 sec­onds. Re­turn to start po­si­tion and re­peat three to five times.”

5. Seated easy side bend An­gela Ioan­nou, a per­sonal trainer, says this is good for stretch­ing the neck, shoul­der and obliques too. “Turn your chair so your desk is par­al­lel on your right-hand side,” she says. “Next place your right fore­arm and el­bow on the desk and reach your left arm up to the sky. Re­lax your shoul­ders and reach your left arm over to the right, slid­ing your right arm away from your body to in­crease the stretch. Fo­cus on your breath as you hold the deep move­ment.”

Pic­ture: Think­stock/PA

GRAND STRETCH: Desk work­ers need to build move­ment into the day.

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